In the field of positive psychology, cultivating positive emotions is encouraged, along with garnering an optimistic outlook on adversity.
After all, usually it’s how we perceive circumstances that determine how we feel about a particular event. If we choose to select thoughts that spin the source of angst in a positive light, we can feel peaceful about what we originally saw as problematic.
While that approach is valid and helpful in obtaining happiness, does it mean you shouldn’t be allowed to experience negative emotions from time to time?
Of course not.
In fact, one may argue that experiencing positivity’s counterpart could even be healthy: it’s all about balance.
“Nobody in positive psychology is advocating full-time, 100 percent happiness,” positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson said. “The people who do best in life don’t have zero negative emotions. In the wake of traumas and difficulties, the people who are most resilient have a complex emotional reaction in which they’re able to hold the negative and the positive side by side.”
When faced with a significant stressor, it’s natural to feel upset, and it certainly makes sense to go through a period of healing. Confront the pain and don’t run away from what’s bothering you – repression of these emotions is unproductive, and they will only surface time and again if not dealt with appropriately.
Spiraling downward into gloom is not beneficial either; this is where carefully selecting your thoughts comes into play. Undergoing hardship may be combated by reconstructing the situation with a positive frame of mind. With this mentality, you can experience the negative feelings (without judging the process), while also harboring resiliency to bounce back effectively.
“There’s no escaping loss, grief, trauma, and insult,” Fredrickson notes. “Denying the negative and painting on the positive is unhealthy, and anybody who makes it their goal never to express a negative emotion quickly drives everyone away from them, because we know their positivity isn’t real. And the reason we know it’s not real is that emotions should reflect our circumstances, and nobody goes through life with 100 percent good circumstances.”
Expressing self-compassion is also important when you’re having an off day, or sifting through a stressful period. In Psych Central’s article, “5 Strategies for Self-Compassion,” Margarita Tartakovsky refers to Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind.
One of the methods suggested to boost self-kindness is to manifest a sense of comfort with a physical gesture. According to Neff, physical gestures “get you out of your head and drop you into your body.”
Whether it’s holding your hand on your arm or caressing your skin, this tip serves as a reminder that you deserve nothing but self-love.
“Maybe the key to fostering fortitude is realizing it’s possible to be simultaneously strong and hurt,” Lori Deschene, founder of Tinybuddha.com said. “Even the most firmly rooted tree can break its branches in a storm. Strength doesn’t mean we’re invincible. It means we have the capacity to move through the pain and heal.”